Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Advance Australia Fair

And the hilarity continues.

After spending with the latest winter bug (possibly helped along by the antics of last weekend), spent a raucous few days celebrating Australia Day. The was a bit of discussion amongst the ex-pat community here, as to what the day actually signifies (some argued the arrival of Captain Cook, others the landing of the three ships, and a small proportion Federation. Honestly, what is our education system coming to). The was no argument however, about the duties of an Australian citizen who is overseas on Australia Day.

First, and most importantly, beer must be consumed in huge quantities. It need not be Australian beer, but must be a) cold and b) either a Mas (1 litre) or a Halbes (half litre).

Second, music must be loud, from the following selection: Cold Chisel (pref. Ke San - don't know how to spell it but you know what I mean), anything by John Williamson, Midnight Oil, Split Endz, Crowded House (on Australia Day, they're Aussies) and more recently, Jet. Each set must also include one of the following - Land Downunder, Waltzing Matilda, Home Among the Gum trees or Advance Australia Fair.

Finally, the gather of Australians must take place in a tacky Australian Bar frequented predominantly by travelling bogans, Soldiers on leave (remind me to tell you about the 3 American guys on leave from Iraq - full on), a few Irish and Northern English (who, on Australia Day, also count themselves as Aussies - either that or it's just an excuse for a piss-up) and the occasional German out to pick up a foreigner and/
or practise their English.

Needless to say, it was an amusing weekend. I acquired a surfboard. It's plastic, inflatable and has an enormous Foster's logo on it. I say 'acquired' because technically, I should have had to drink four Foster's to get one (as if!) but I asked one of the waitresses nicely and she gave me one.

For the foodies: Most excellent meal of trip so far was consumed on Monday - half a free range duck, with a beer sauce, served with Brat Kartoffeln (potatoes, roasted then fried in a bit of butter - mmm). The duck was so huge that I was able to take half of it home in a doggy bag and make a red curry with it the next night (peeled the skin off so it wouldn't taste like beer sauce).

By the way, big hello to fellow teachers who went back to school today. Heh. Roz and I will be having a drink for you tonight.

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Tuesday, 20 January 2004

Land Downuner

Did you know that a monkey has an angry 'oo-oo' noise, and a happy 'oo-oo' noise? Apparently you can also tell the difference between a grimace and a smile. A little bit more monkey info every day.

Well, what a weekend. Mark and I managed to successfully paint the town dark brown in just a few short hours.

He arrived very late Thursday night, and we were able to catch up Friday afternoon after my class had finished (those of you who are not interested in food should skip the next couple of paragraphs).

The first thing we did was head for the markets, as Mark was hanging for some Wurst & Kraut. The outdoor market here in Munich is stunning; in terms of meat, you can get absolutely everything (from both inside and outside the animal), both beautiful and stinky cheeses (the stinkier the better), local wines, organic fruits and vegies and even seafood (although 100g of scallops costs about $10). Mark was particularly impressed by the fresh pig's heads sitting in one butcher's window.

Needless to say, we went out for some traditional Bavarian food (and beverages) that night. The meal was outstanding (as was the entertainment - there was a family feud going on a couple of tables down). Mark had roast pork, knödel and about 3 & 1/2 litres of beer. I had roast PIGLET (is that what we call 'suckling pork'? Doesn't sound so horrible when you say it like that) which was absolutely amazing. The crackle was the best I have ever tasted, and it was served with knödel and a lovely wine gravy. Felt slightly guilty about eating Babe, but what can you do? I figure he was already dead before I ordered.

Saturday we did some touristy stuff - went to the Royal residence, saw the crown jewels and the estate rooms. Was fab, but those kinds of details do not an interesting e-mail make, so I will move on. To lunch. Walked past this stunning Konditorei, and had to go in. We both had these delicious (and expensive) berry tarts; the pastry cases were lined with chocolate, then filled with a berry cream (maybe a creme fraiche or marscapone), topped with fresh raspberries and glazed. Mmmmm. Mark had a hot chocolate that I swear, was just a mug of melted chocolate with about a teaspoon of milk thrown in for good measure. He had a bit of a sugar rush afterwards (think of post-slushie Bart and Millhouse).

Okay, so I've got the food rant out of the way. Moving right along, after the Royal Residence we decided it was beer o'clock. We had walked past this very busy looking lokal on our way to the museum, so decided to head back there. On our way, we walked past an Aussie Bar. Of course, we had to go in for a look. It was hilarious. Up above the bar, there were these sort of paper mache (how the hell do you spell that?) sculptures of sharks & crocodiles, little Aussie flags, road signs, a painting of Ned Kelly, bar coasters in the shape of Aus - you name it. Mark and I were dumbstruck (and a little mortified). We we're standing there cacking ourselves laughing and taking photos, when this old guy sitting at the bar said, 'what are you laughing at?' (in a non-threatening way, I should add). So I said, 'this place, it's hysterical,' and he said, 'steady on, I designed it!'

I thought he was bull-shitting me at first, but he wasn't. He's this 60 year old English bloke (Bernie) who lives in Munich and designs the decor for theme bars (Irish, Aussie, English etc) in continental Europe. He reminded me a little bit of one of the characters from father Ted (the old one who says 'feck' all the time). So we're having this amusing little chat, and he suddenly says, 'You're lovely you are. Do kiss with you mouth open or closed?' At this point, Mark ducked for cover (he was in the potential line of fire), but I restrained myself, and simply told Bernie that I was used to dealing with children, but that they generally knew better than to ask questions such as the one he just had [I also told him that had he been 30 years younger, I might have answered his question. One must fight fire with fire].

It was all very funny. He took it rather well and managed to continue our conversation with only a few minor misdemeanours. Apparently, he'd rather have me for a wife than Catherine Zeta-Jones any day (not sure if she was offering - unclear. She does seem to prefer older men).

Also started chatting to one of the bar staff, a girl from Perth, who has been here for about 4 months but doesn't speak any German. When I told her I was a German teacher at home, she immediately asked me how much I would charge for lessons. I was like, 'um, I don't know, 10 Euros an hour??' So I'm now getting $20 an hour ($30 if her housemate comes too) to teach basic German to someone who actually wants to learn - it's like a fairytale! Had our first lesson today - she was actually really quick to pick up everything. We will probably do about 6 lessons before I come home, and the extra cash will definitely come in handy (food here v. expensive. Everything here v. expensive).

Back to the bar. We also got talking to this Irish girl and her partner, who live somewhere in the North of England (forget where) and decided to invite them along to the Hofbräuhaus with us for dinner. I think it is imperative that all visitors to München go to the Hofbräuhaus at least once. Was a right larf. Ordered beers, and they came out in litre Stein glasses. Sang along with the German band (very much like 'The Cuckoo'), found out that Chris (of the couple) was a Buffy fan - yay, bought tacky key-ring with a photo of us in it holding afore-mentioned steins and got chatted up by cute Egyptian waiter (was on fire, I'm telling you), who wanted me to meet him after work. When I told him that I had a husband, he said, 'that's okay - you can leave him at home'.

After that, we went on to another Aussie bar (they're everywhere) and found ourselves dancing to ACDC (but also ABBA, Guns and Roses, Underworld - weird mix really) until 4 in the morning. Apparently the Aussie community in Munich (consisting mainly of bar staff) do a bit of a crawl from bar to bar every Friday and Saturday night after work. Couldn't do it myself. Didn't drink that much, but still felt like shit all day yesterday (still not that crash-hot now actually).

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Tuesday, 13 January 2004

How the past comes back to haunt you

Isn't funny how, no matter how much you try to get away from something, it can just chase you around, refusing to give up its hold on your otherwise peaceful life?

A somewhat dramatic introduction, I'm aware, but this news will make many of you laugh. We're sitting in class on Friday, and the Professor says (more on her later) we have to have an election. We have to elect a Klassensprecher (a rep) who will attend fortnightly meetings to discuss any issues with the course, suggestions, etc. At this point I began to feel a bit edgy. So we all got our little slips of paper, wrote down the first name of the person we wanted to represent us, etc, etc. I don't think there is any need for me to tell you the outcome. I can assure that I did not vote for myself (unlike in previous elections) and would actually prefer not to have to spend hours discussing trivialities such as why the coffee machine gives you hot chocolate when you order a cappuccino, or why there are never any hand towels in the girls toilets. Nevertheless, this is the duty with which I have been charged, and I will approach it wit> suitable diligence and fervour.

Back to Frau Professorin. She has a new nemesis; a newcomer by the name of Viktor. He's from Minsk (I tell you, there are some students here from really interesting places), has the coolest accent and the largest ears I have ever seen. Viktor, to the professor's annoyance, is in the habit of interrupting the class with entertaining anecdotes and red herring questions. Today he informed us that he was going to do his (compulsory) talk on the possibly that Amsterdam may eventually sink below sea level, and that tourists will only be able to see its sights with the assistance of scuba diving equipment. While we all found this wildly amusing, Frau Professorin did not. Needless to say, the spotlight is now (thankfully) on someone else. In class on Friday (pre-Viktor) we were asked to walk around the room, and tell each other a little about ourselves. Always entertaining with a large group of people from all over the world. I ended up in a group with a Venezuelan guy called Jonothan. He mentioned a few things about himself, his family, etc and then proceeded to inform us that he has a pet MONKEY!!!!! Of course I became completely obsessed with the monkey, asked him if it had a name, if it wears a little coat and does tricks(yes, no, no), etc. After I had asked him a-gazillion questions about the monkey (important details, such as where does it sleep, does he carry it around on his shoulder, does he miss the monkey), Jonathon began to sidle away - I think he though I was taking the piss (either that, or that I was some Monkey-obsessed freak). Maybe he thought I was going to spend the next three weeks following him around, asking him questions about the monkey. With that in mind, today I held myself back. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing cooler than a pet monkey would be a pet miniature elephant (well, miniature anything really).

Went to visit friends outside of Munich for the weekend (Stephi and her family, for those of you who know her). Was great fun; she has three adorable little kids, 7, 5 and four months. Phillip, the eldest, was very keen to explain all about how things work in Germany. My favourite kid-logic story - we were watching an afternoon kids TV show, where the viewers can send in drawings and they get shown on the TV, their name gets mentioned, the kid gets sent a little prize - you know how it works. Phillip explains it to me like this:

"You see Anna, let's say I send in a picture that I've drawn myself, and they send me a CD. The CD is like payment for the picture. The CD is worth about 15 Euros, and my picture is worth about 10 Euros, which leaves 5 Euros cash as a reward for your efforts."

Thursday, 8 January 2004


Arrived safely in Munich, despite 4am start and a small amount of interference at the airport, by a tiny Nun who tried to push in front of me at the check-in queue (I stood my ground).

Vienna was unbelievably cold in the end, snowing for three days straight. I was a bit freaked out about flying to Munich, especially after hearing that an Austrian Airlines flight had crashed-landed en-route to Munich two days earlier (same flight time and everything. No one was injured). It was still dark as we were taxiing towards the runway (at 7:30am, mind). Then, all of a sudden, I saw all of these cranes on the tarmac (is that what it's called??). They were these funky hydraulic things (think 'Alien') with a guy sitting inside. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, then the captain informed us that the plane had to be de-iced before take off. It was like sitting under a giant car-wash, but instead of washing the plane in water, we were doused in this Matrix-esque, pink gack. It was all rather surreal. In the end, a guy got up onto the wing and skated around, presumably to check that all of the ice had been gacked to his satisfaction. The whole experience actually served in making me feel more comfortable flying in such hideous weather.

So now I'm in Munich. I'm staying in a private home (flat, actually) with a woman in her early fifties. She's quite nice; no interesting quirks to speak of. The surrounding area seems to be rather 'happening', although I haven't yet had much time to look around.

My course is five days a week, from 8:30am - 12:45. Not too bad, except that they give us two hours of homework a day (they actually write the amount of time each activity should take, so that it works out to exactly two hours), including for Saturdays. Sundays, apparently, is for God (that is seriously what the Professor said), so we don't need to do any HW.

Speaking of the Professor, she has corrected my Austrian accent a couple of times, even though I haven't been speaking in dialect (Ja Lilli, reg' dich auf), despite the fact that there are other people in class with full-on Japanese accents (for example). I think she took a dislike to me yesterday. When I first arrived, it took about 4 hours to do all of the registration stuff, and she happened to walk past after I'd been sitting outside one particular office for over an hour. She said something along the lines of, 'the lines aren't too long', and I, unable to keep my mouth shut, mentioned that I had been waiting for an hour. She got this kind of wild, wide-eyed thing happening, and I did some big-time back-peddling, it's not really that bad, happy, happy, joy etc.

As I walked along the corridor to my designated classroom this morning, I wondered whether fate would throw this woman my way, and lo - there she was. As it turns out, she's a very entertaining teacher; quite eccentric, which suits me fine. She did give me an, 'I know you' look as I walked in, though.

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Monday, 5 January 2004

Means nothing to me

Ah, Vienna!

Arrived safely at 6am Friday morning, to a friendly minus 3 degrees. After making my way through customs (takes about 5 minutes in Austria - they are quite relaxed about the whole security thing. It’s like, 'Hi, Osama! Come on in!') I managed to drag myself along the cold and windy streets, to Lilli’s humble abode. Couldn’t find my gloves at the train station, so I had to walk about 500 meters bare-handed, only to discover when I arrived at Lilli’s that they were, in fact, inside my beanie - i.e. on top of my head. Long haul flights do wonders for the brain cells.

Lilli has been doing a great job of entertaining me for the past few days. Yesterday we went out (despite horrendous weather) to the new art gallery and took in a little culture (Klimt, Shiele, Clee and most excitingly, Kandinsky), then went out for an obligatory schnitzel. My only criteria was that the schnitzel had to bigger than my head, a feat easily achieved not once, but twice over. Needless to say, I have a rather large doggy bag sitting in the fridge for today’s lunch.

Went out to a little club after afore mentioned schnitzel, where Lilli’s boyfriend was playing DJ for the night. Can’t seem to escape those DJs, no matter how far away I am. Anyway, Lilli's boyfriend is like Jack Osbourne’s identical twin (or at least, identical cousin). I am seriously not exaggerating. It took a while for it to sink in; initially I couldn't work out why he looked so familiar. Then it came to me last night, as I was watching him play. As you can imagine, I was unable to contain my hysteria, and managed to take several not so surreptitious photos to show you all when I get home. It is snowing its absolute head off here at the moment. Apparently it hasn't snowed this much in Vienna for years, so I am (naturally) convinced that it is all a lovely big show for me.

I have also had to move my wedding ring over to the right hand (where they wear it here) so as not to attract any unsavoury types. Last night, some tall guy with tragic 80s hairdo asked me if I wanted to dance with him, to which I replied ‘no thanks’ (of course), to which he replied ‘why not, can’t you dance?’ to which I replied ‘yes, but I don’t want to thanks very much’. It was all a bit stressful, until Lilli explained to me that being asked to dance does not really have the same ‘we can go back to my place after’ connotations in Austria. It is possible then, that my rejection of this poor man was horribly rude, but what can you do. It is also possible that Lilli and (her friend) Chi Chi (believe it or not this is a guy and he's not gay. His real name is Herbert, so one can fully appreciate the need for a nickname) were taking the piss in order that I dance with all kinds of weirdos at some point in the future. We’ll see.